His keen sense of irony contributes a satisfying whirr beneath the surface of his stories. Consider this familiar scene (from “Hungry”, one of my favourite stories): “There are all these beautiful clean objects on the desk. Beakers, sticks, cotton balls, a little black bed with paper laid out over it in case you’re bleeding and shit. A poster on the wall showing pink lungs and black lungs and at that point I want a cigarette.”
This is not a story designed to make you snicker, but this human contradiction provokes a smile of recognition. Similarly, the language of beginnings and endings is unremarkable, but often unexpectedly moving. Like the opening of “Leo Fell”, which invites questions: “The day Marianne found out she took a swing at him.” And the closing of “Man Lost”, which offers closure: “Their voices at play were like the sounds birds make in the morning, when all is new and there is only time and more time for the day to unfold.”
There’s not a lot of dialogue and what remains unsaid also matters, like this bit in the novella, “Here the Dark”: “‘I won’t come back,’ Marcie said, and Lily believed her, and she wondered what that would be like, to not come back.” It’s Lily’s silence, her wondering, that matters more. But if Marcie hadn’t left, Lily wouldn’t have even been able to wonder. Sometimes this kind of wondering is what passes for action in these stories. If you’re not big on wondering, you might not be big on Bergen’s stories.